Choosing the Type of Stained Glass to Use

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When first starting out in stained glass, the sheer variety of choices can feel overwhelming and might leave you with more questions than you had before you saw the selection available.

Do you remember the first time you walked into a stained glass supply store? I do. What a sight it was! With all of the different types of glass and all the beautiful textures and colours on display, I was in awe as I'm sure you were too, ​to some degree or other. 

There are many considerations that usually go into buying the glass we use to create our projects; cost, colour, texture, opacity and ease of use.  These factors might fluctuate in importance depending on whether you’re building a window for a specific location, if you're making a small panel, a suncatcher or a small gift of some kind.

​Now colour selection is a complete topic​ unto itself, and so it will have it's own article (if not a series of articles) dedicated to helping you ​choose and pair colours. But for now, let's discuss more about opacity and texture. ​

Opacity

How transparent is the glass? Art glass is generally broken down into two categories with other variations made from a combination of these two.

The two main categories are:

  • Opalescent glass (also commonly referred to as Opals) which are more opaque meaning you can't see directly through them..
  • Cathedral glass is transparent. They can still have beautiful and intense colours, ​but you can see right through them.

​​Things to Consider with Opals​​​​​​​


  • ​​Trying to control light
  • ​Masking an unsightly view
  • Privacy

​Trying to Control Light

If you’re making a lamp, you’ll probably be more inclined to use opalescent glass to help hide the light source or at least use something that isn’t completely transparent to help control the intensity of the light shining through the shade.

Same goes for windows. If you want to dampen the light coming through the window, opalescent glass will help you ​achieve that.

​Masking an Unsightly View

Are you trying to hide an unsightly view? ​Opals might work more to your benefit here. ​

​Texture

One of the determining factors that will dictate if the glass is suitable for your project is if it has texture or not.

Some glass is perfectly smooth on both the front and back, while others might have one smooth side with texture on the second. And then there are still others that don't have a perfectly smooth side at all.

​​Things to ​Consider ​with Texture​​​​​​​


  • Privacy 
  • ​Ability to clean the glass 
  • ​Your comfort level of breaking glass
  • ​Adding details to your design

Privacy

If you’re making a bathroom or bedroom window, you’ll probably want it to help provide some privacy. Simply stand your sheet glass up and hold your hand behind it about 6 inches. How well can you see your hand through the glass? How defined is it? Can you make out the exact shape? If you can, you should probably consider choosing a different type of glass.

​Notice in this ​dragonfly window​ how the clear background glass is so heavily textured it distorts the view behind it? There is actually a road, houses and trees about 70 feet beyond the window, yet you can't see any of it!

Ability to Clean It

​If you're making stained glass windows for your kitchen cupboards, you'll want to keep the texture facing inside the cupboard. This will allow you to keep it clean much more easily. If the texture is facing out, it will collect grease and grime and may be more likely to get damaged when it's being cleaned as it could take quite a bit of scrubbing.

Your Comfort Level

​Getting used to working with texture can feel a little daunting for stained glass beginners. This isn't to say that you shouldn't try working with textured glass if you're still new. ​But if you're still quite nervous cutting glass, you may want to steer away from very strong textures with deep ridges for the time being. Even some experienced crafters back down from using some of the more heavily textured glass that’s available.

Feeling nervous about cutting glass? Read: 14 Strategies to Improve Your Glass Cutting.

Add​ Details to ​the​ Design

​Sometimes the texture in a piece of glass can add those extra details to provide more depth in your work. This should always be a consideration when trying to choose the best glass for your project.

Commonly Asked Questions about Art Glass​

Is there a front and back side to glass?

Invariably the topic always comes up as to whether the smooth or textured side is actually the front or the back. Here's a quote from the Spectrum Glass (a art glass manufacturer) FAQ page

Is there a front & back side to the glass sheets?   Absolutely!   How can I tell which is which? In some products it's obvious, in others, less so.   Generally speaking, the shinier side is the top or front side of the sheet. Rolled textures are always textured on the back side of the sheet.      

If you ask a group of hobbyists which way they use the glass, you won't get one consistent answer. But if my opinion counts for anything, I would say that since ​YOU"RE creating the art, ​YOU get to decide!

Ultimately, we have the freedom to choose which way to turn the glass depending on our vision for our creation and what we think looks best.

Are different manufacturers glass easier to use?

I suspect each glass manufacturing company has their own unique recipes for making glass and that’s why we have such a variety to choose from. Just as you could purchase chocolate chip cookies from 5 different bakeries and end up with 5 totally different looking and tasting desserts, glass is much the same. If you polled the public on which cookie they like best for appearance and for taste, you’d likely get varied responses. The same goes for glass.

At certain times we may have a preference of one glass manufacturer over another simply because we know how well that glass will work in our project. Other times, we may try something new because we fell in love with a new color or discovered a new texture that we had not seen before.

Which one is best?

Each company produces their glass differently and with different compositions to create all the beautiful colors of art glass available to us. This means that most of the glass we use will feel slightly different when handling it or cutting it compared to others. But this doesn't mean one is “better” than another.

And don't forget too that different colors can also cut differently and this also ring trues about whether it’s an opal or cathedral glass. Cathedrals will usually cut with a much lighter score than opals. (Read more about using the right amount of cutting pressure here.) 

The best thing to do is to always test your score before trying to make the cut you need for your project. This will give you a chance to feel how the glass scores and how easily it breaks. 

What to Do N​ext

​Knowing which specific types of glass you like to work with is a little bit easier if you keep track of the ones you use.

​This could mean simply keeping a list of the ones you've tried and like or don't like, or, as suggested to me when I first started stained glass, create your own little sample pack.

​Do this by keeping a scrap of every sheet you use with the colour code marked right onto the glass. This will make a handy reference if you accidentally run out of the glass you’re using or simply want to buy more.

​Besides, I think we've all been there. You know, when you wish you could remember the colour code for that beautiful piece of ​blue/red/green....glass you used last year. At least this way, you'll have a reference piece with the colour code right on it to be able to order it again!

​What do you think about when choosing glass for your projects? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Choosing the right type of glass to use in your stained glass project can be a bit overwhelming. Learn the basic types of glass available and the reasons you might choose one over another.
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Leave a Reply 2 comments

Tiffany Locke - May 15, 2018 Reply

I like your advice to determine what textures of stained glass is most suitable for your project, such as perfectly smooth. When determining the features you want, you’d probably want to look at other windows and items to see the textures, colors, and other features they have so that you can determine what you like best. Once you’ve done this, you’d probably want to find a professional that offers stained glass services, such as installation and repairs, so that you can put them in your home and keep them in good condition.

    Samantha Calder - May 16, 2018 Reply

    Thank you for pointing this out Tiffany. Yes, for a buyer of finished work, your tips are most helpful. My readers tend to be hobbyists themselves and so this was written as a way to help them out with making their own selection of glass. I totally agree that for both buyers and makers, looking at and studying other stained glass windows is always a great way to discover what you like or draws your attention.

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